Human Rights Watch has accused Iraq of violating laws that protect children who are recruited by armed groups. It cited "deeply flawed screening processes" and use of torture to extract confessions of IS membership.
Iraq and the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) have charged hundreds of children with terrorism for alleged "Islamic State" (IS) membership after extracting confessions obtained through torture, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday.
"Iraqi and KRG authorities often arrest and prosecute children with any perceived connection to IS, use torture to coerce confessions, and sentence them to prison in hasty and unfair trials," the rights group said.
Around 1,500 children are in Iraqi and Kurdish detention for alleged IS affiliation, it added. At least 185 foreign children have also been convicted on terrorism charges.
The group criticized Iraqi and KRG authorities for using "deeply flawed screening processes" that lead to detention and prosecution of children regardless of the nature and extent of their involvement with terrorist groups.
"This sweeping, punitive approach is not justice, and will create lifelong negative consequences for many of these children," said Jo Becker, children's rights advocacy director for Human Rights Watch.
Under international law, children recruited by armed groups are viewed as victims in need of support and rehabilitation.
Protecting vulnerable children
However, children in Iraq are sometimes detained with adults in overcrowded and unsanitary prisons with no access to education, rehabilitation or contact with families, according to Human Rights Watch.
In interviews conducted with children detainees who admitted joining IS, the group found that many had joined IS out of economic need and social pressure.
Others said they had lower-level responsibility within IS, working as guards, cooks, or drivers. Some denied any personal involvement but said that family members belonged to IS.
Many of the children also said they had little or no access legal representation and their court hearings and trials lasted no more than a few minutes.
Children also feared being released because the stigma of having cooperated with IS could make them subject to revenge attacks.
Human Rights Watch recommended that children who have not committed severe crimes be released and rehabilitated. For those children who committed violent offenses, the group said that they should be handled in accordance with international juvenile justice standards.